How to Unclog a Septic Tank

A septic system is a self-contained, underground wastewater treatment system. This kind of system is mostly employed in rural areas because the distance between houses is quite far apart making centralized sewer systems not very economical. They are used to dispose of household waste on site and are simple in design making them less expensive to install and maintain. In fact, they are usually installed in a homeowner’s backyard and as such, don’t require the use of sewer lines thereby making them not that disruptive to the environment.

There are two main parts to the septic system:

The Septic Tank – a watertight box that is usually made of concrete fiberglass and has an inlet and outlet pipe. Wastewater from the home flows through the sewer pipe into the septic tank. The wastewater is then treated by the tank naturally by holding it in – this process causes the separation of solids from liquids.

Three layers of wastewater is formed inside the tank: solid lighter than water (e.g. grease and oil; float to the top and forms a layer of scum), solids heavier than water (drop to the bottom to form a layer of sludge, and the middle layer (partially clarified wastewater).

The sludge and scum layers remain inside the tank where bacteria that is naturally found in wastewater break down the solids. Sludge and scum that cannot be broken down remain in the tank until it gets pumped. The clarified liquid mentioned earlier flows from the tank to the drainfield or distribution device.

Drainfield – also known as a leachfield, disposal field or soil absorption field. This is a series of trenches or just a bed lined with gravel or course sand that is buried about one to three feet below the surface of the ground. Wastewate is distributed through perforated pipes or drain tiles that run through the trenches. Also, a drainfield treats wastewater by letting it flow from the pipes into the gravel then further down into the soil. In other worlds, the gravel and soil serve as biological filters.

Although this system is effective, it is prone to break (particularly if not much attention is being paid to it). Signs that your system is having problems include:

  • Constant overflowing of the toilet.
  • Strange gurgling noises are made by the drains.
  • Emptying a sink results in it backing up the shower or bathtub.
  • An overflow is present where your washing machine is located.
  • Foul smells permeate the air or you see waste showing up on land.
  • Your drains release a stinky odor.
  • Your toilets are too slow when flushing.
  • Streams and ditches located nearby become polluted.
  • You’ll find dips in the soil located close to the soakway drain or close to the septic tank.

How to Solve a Septic Tank Clogging Problem

Yes, septic tank issues may arise from time to time but you don’t always have to dig up your tank or drainfield to solve the issue. The last thing you want is for your yard to be filled up with mess that will take days to get rid of when you dig up your septic tank. That said, here are some steps to help you unclog your septic tank:

1: Find out the reason for the clog.
As mentioned earlier, you don’t always have to dig out your tank when you have a clog. Not all clogs cause your system to break down. In fact, your problem may just be waste that needs to be cleared up after accumulating over time.

The simplest way to find out if you have a problem is to hire a professional. They can use equipment to determine whether there really is something wrong with your system.

2: Determine if your problem is not mechanical.
If your problem is not mechanical, then you won’t need those machines to get rid of the issue. You can simply add bacteria to clear the mess up. Bacteria can be used to clear blockages because it acts like an acid.

While some may recommend the use of chemicals, it is highly discouraged at this point. Adding chemicals into the mix will indeed free up sludge but it will also allow that sludge to go into your system which in turn makes things so much more worse.

3: Find the most aggressive bacteria.
You can go online to find dealers who sell bacteria. Make sure you get bacteria that is really aggressive and order more than the recommended dosage. Why should that be? Something strong will be able to get into your system much more faster and help clear out issues.

4: Let bacteria do its job.
It may take a few days and even a few weeks before bacteria starts breaking down blockage. This is because you don’t know just how much sludge you have in your tank, as well as in the lines and field. Although bacteria can multiply rapidly, it takes time for them to get to work, particularly in old systems that have been neglected. Bacteria is often preferred as the solution of choice because they are organic and will not harm systems the way chemicals do. What bacteria do is that they multiply and eat anything organic that is in their path.

Reducing the Clogging of Septic Tanks

Maintenance is always key in making sure you don’t suffer when your septic tank clogs up. Yes, sludge builds up over time but taking good care of your system saves you trouble down the road. Although it is recommended to have your tanks cleared out on a yearly basis, how often you do this depends on these factors:

  • The number of people living in your home.
  • The amount of wastewater generated (the amount is of course dependent on the number of people your household has).
  • The volume of solids in the wastewater (for example, using a garbage disposal is a factor in how much solids is in wastewater).

The absorption field of your septic tank doesn’t need maintenance in general. However, that doesn’t mean you can just take it for granted. There are some things you can do to make sure it’s always functional and protected.

  • Don’t drive cars, trucks and heavy equipment over the field.
  • Don’t plant trees or shrubbery in the field because roots can get into the lines and cause blockage.
  • Don’t cover the field with hard surfaces (concrete, asphalt, etc). The best element you can use should you want cover is grass as it prevents erosion and removes excess water.
  • Don’t redirect surface runoff water from the field from driveways, roofs, patios and other areas.

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